Exclusive: Brown invokes spirit of 1997 with return of pledge cards

PM names five key policies that he hopes will return him to power

Labour MPs were put on general alert at a meeting this week addressed by Gordon Brown and three Cabinet ministers
Labour MPs were put on general alert at a meeting this week addressed by Gordon Brown and three Cabinet ministers

Labour is to fight the next general election on a five-point promise to boost public services and slash Britain's mountainous debts, The Independent has learned. Senior ministers will attempt to reproduce the success of the Labour pledge card, which was the centrepiece of Tony Blair's triumphant election campaign in 1997.

Party strategists, who face a daunting task to erode a double-digit Tory opinion poll lead, are again preparing to boil down their pitch to the voters into five clear pledges. They are expected to focus on jobs, health, personal care, antisocial behaviour and tackling the recession.

Labour MPs were put on general alert at a meeting this week addressed by Gordon Brown and three Cabinet ministers. Although no date has been announced for the poll, the likelihood is that he will go to the country on 6 May.

The party, which is still reeling from last week's failed leadership coup, is desperate to switch the focus on to the Tories and dictate the election battle-lines. But it is still facing problems, with the party's election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander being forced to deny reports he was ready to resign last week.

The final decision on which policy pledges will feature on the cards is yet to be taken by Labour high command. But in a clear foretaste of the party's expected election strategy, MPs were advised to focus on five promises in campaigning in their constituencies:

* Training or further education will be provided for all school-leavers and a job or training for jobless young adults.

* Suspected cancer patients will receive their diagnosis within one week.

* The elderly and most vulnerable will receive free personal care.

* Families responsible for antisocial behaviour will face tough action.

* The national deficit will be halved in four years through tax rises, spending cuts and growth.

They will also attempt to contrast the pledges by levelling five accusations at David Cameron – that the Tories would cut schools funding, scrap the cancer promise, preside over a social care "lottery", reduce police numbers and axe Sure Start schemes.

The tactic of offering a small number of clear promises was tried with great success with the Labour pledge card in 1997 and repeated four years later.

The commitment to halve the deficit within four years is at the heart of Labour's economic strategy and the issue is certain to be an election flashpoint.

The Government says the target can be hit through economic growth, "fair tax rises" and spending cuts. The Prime Minister has so far refused to be drawn on where the axe will fall on spending.

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, last month announced that everyone aged between 18 and 24 would be offered a job, a work placement or training if they had been out of work for six months.

He also promised to provide education or training for every 16- or 17-year-old. The schemes would be paid for by a one-off tax on bankers' bonuses – a cash source that is difficult to predict.

Mr Brown made the cancer and personal care pledges at the Labour conference in September. He said suspected cancer sufferers would by the year 2013 be guaranteed a test and diagnosis within two weeks of seeing their GP. The wait would be cut to a week by 2015.

Under the care plans, which are due to begin this summer, up to 280,000 elderly and disabled people with the highest needs would receive free care at home while another 130,000 would get modifications to their homes to help them live there as long as possible. Ministers says the estimated £670m annual bill would be met from NHS and town hall efficiencies, but critics claim the scheme has not been properly costed.

Mr Brown also told the conference of plans over the next six years to subject the country's 50,000 most chaotic households to "family intervention projects" designed to improve their behaviour.

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